On my mountainside home outside of Asheville, NC, the sky is dark and gray, but on my PCs screen the skies of San Diego are filled with the smoke of homes burning away.
Thanks to television, were closer than ever to disaster, no matter where or when it happens. You didnt need to be in Manhattan, Washington, DC, or that field in Pennsylvania, where United 93 crashed, to know the horror of 9/11. This has been true for decades now. Reaching back to my youth, I well recall Vietnam as an endless series of nightly newscasts with tired young men covered in mud and blood.
Today, though, its not just the big picture that I can see from my home. Today, thanks to the convergence of many technologies, far-away disaster is personal.
For example, thanks to YouTube, Ive seen a San Diego TV news reporter take a walk through of a burned out house. His own house.
I found out about the incredible clip thanks to a friend of mine, Andy Patrizio, whos also journalist and belongs, as I do, to the Internet Press Guild. There, using that "old" Internet communication tool, the e-mail list, weve been keeping tabs on each other. Besides whos doing what where in technology journalism, we also know how one of us is recovering from his heart attack, whos got a new job, who recently moved, and how those of us who live and work in Southern California are doing.
To read more about tech companies that have been forced to shut down due to the fires, click here.
We are a community that exists solely because of the Internet. We, however, are still stuck in the 90s with our crude Web site and our mailing lists. I know many people who, through their social networks, LiveJournal, Facebook, and MySpaces San Diego group, people are checking in on each other, sharing the news, and sharing what sites have the best and most up to date coverage of the fires. In short, they have become a neighborhood.
The 50s idea of neighborhood—the kids next door, the lady across the street who could be counted on to water the lawn if you went away for a weekend—sounds to 21st century ears like a tired old cliché. It is an idea that lives on only on older television shows or in the funhouse mirror of The Simpsons.
But, here we are. We may not know our neighbors name, but we do know our friend whos also a Lost fan who lives near Balboa Park in San Diego. We know the guy who we play World of Warcraft with whos at the Naval base in San Diego. We may have followed technology news on Jim Forbes ForbesOnTech, but now, instead of reading about what was hot at DemoFall 07, youre reading about the journey of a self-described technology refugee and his pets after they were forced to leave home because of the fires.
Its more though than just words in an online community or on a blog though. We see the people, not just with where a TV cameraman happens to be, but where anyone with a net-enabled phone can take snapshots of friends and family camping out in Qualcomm Stadium. You can ride along with an EMT who took video as his team drove into the smoke of what was becoming the Witch Creek Fire.
We have become, both for better and for worse, one world, one neighborhood. Its a place where we are never more than a click away from friends and strangers, from personal disasters and victories. All of us really do live in San Diego now, and I hope and pray that things will go better for those whose homes and jobs are there.
Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.